The Mullins/Nicholls show is set up for a fascinating conclusion at Sandown. There’s £30k up for grabs in the opener too and both are strong handed. I prefer the price about Ashoka for Dan Skelton though who knows how to target a handicap. He’s done so with the likes of Baradari, Superb Story and Ch’Tibello this year and Ashoka has a not dissimilar profile. He has an 18b pull with Nicholls's Tommy Silver, cheekpieces go on, and the trainer said after his December win that the spring could be a profitable time for his horse.
It’s a good race at Ripon that sees last year's 2nd back having bumped into the subsequent Gold Cup winner. As a result, Gabrial's King has to be considered a well treated horse but, on this ground, preference is for stable companion Gabrial’s Star at a bigger price. His owner does tend to target this and his form is closely matched with that of Gabrial’s King. This looks likely to be the softest ground he’s encountered since his Chester win a few years ago and he is a short head away from being a winner fresh in the past. He does need things to drop right but is well worth taking a price about with plenty in his favour.
I’m surprised Erik The Red isn’t the market leader for the mile handicap at Haydock. Patience from connections was rewarded last term as they brought him along slowly and he’s 3 from his last 3, all with today’s rider on board. He does get further and that may mean he’d want more pace on than looks likely but I like he’s versatile with regards to running style as I’m not sure you’d want to get too far back here. I don't think he will from stall 7. Still unexposed, he’s just 11lb higher than for his first handicap win and there should be plenty more to come.
No bet in the Oaksey or the Celebration Chase at Sandown - for what it’s worth I fancy W P Mullins to land both of them. The feature betting heat of the day at Sandown is the Bet365 Gold Cup and The Young Master looks made for this. He gets his ground and shaped for this sort of test last time at Cheltenham, when seemingly in better form than stable companion Carole’s Destrier. I like all the Neil Mulholland horses here but The Young Master is the pick of them off just 4lb higher than his easy Ascot win 16 months ago. Also worth a play is Hadrian’s Approach, 2lb lower than when winning this race 2 years ago. Crucially though this is just his 5th start since that win and this 9 year old may be far from past his best. I fancied him for the National but his trainer mentioned he’d have preferred to get another race into him before Aintree. A shame then that he only got to the first that day but he is pick of the prices for a trainer that has proved he can get his horses back on song after an absence.